Saturday 18 March 2023

The Slow Readers Club / Andrew Cushin - Manchester Albert Hall - 17th March 2023

The Slow Readers Club finished off their UK tour in support of their sixth album Knowledge Freedom Power with a sold-out hometown show at Manchester's Albert Hall, their first big Manchester show for three years. Playing a career-spanning set they reminded the city why they're one of the most important bands to emerge from here in recent times as an adoring audience hung on every word and note for an hour and a half.

Andrew Cushin is a young man destined for bigger things, headlining stages like this and potentially bigger in his own right. Tonight he charms a Manchester crowd that includes a few new devotees he's picked up on this tour so much so that the roar at the end of his set supersedes many more celebrated support acts we've seen in this room. He has the confidence and the assurance not be fazed by the size of the room and the partisan crowd, even on the subject of football and his love of performing is evident for everyone to see. His songs touch chords, the thrill of the terrace, the pain of alcoholism and its impact on families, everyday issues that people can relate to. 

"READERS READERS"; the simple yet all-encompassing chant that has followed The Slow Readers Club around since a drunken punter (OK, me) bellowed it out one hot and hazy afternoon in Sheffield when The Slow Readers Club were in the world of afternoon slots at Tramlines Fringe; bellows out around the Albert Hall as the final bars of their traditional intro I Feel Love fade out. Passers by hearing this must wonder what sort of strange cult were meeting in the desecrated chapel above one of Manchester's to-be-seen bars. The Albert Hall is a glorious venue when the sound and lighting is right and the crowd are into the gig. 

Tonight, everything aligns for The Slow Readers Club's first big homecoming show in three years, a band back on the rise and sounding as powerful, uplifting and essential as they've ever done. Two thousand fans are on their feet from the start of new album Knowledge Freedom Power's opener Modernise to the final chorus of their breakthrough single Lunatic that brings the night to a close. They're joined together in a love of and devotion to a band that's gone from strength to strength, fired on by a bloody-mindedness belief in what they do and supported by an ever-growing rag-tag bunch of followers that goes from young kids experiencing their first kids to the mayor of the region.

They play nineteen songs in total from across their six albums and at no point does the sense of occasion drop in the room. The newer songs are still bedding into people's affections, not that you'd know from the way Knowledge Freedom Power's sloganeering three word chorus is yelled back at them or the response to the magnificent Afterlife, the latest album and potentially their career to date's highest point, but looking around everyone knows them, similarly with Everything I Own and The Greatest Escape, the limited release of their previous album 91 Days In Isolation that was self-released without a big publicity campaign.

The set feels like a Greatest Hits album, rammed to the gills with celebratory moments with many sat on the sidelines because you can only have so many on the team. The journey that we're taken on tonight started with songs like Feet On Fire and Block Out The Sun from their debut, songs that could have been lost to the record collections of a set few and spoken about excitedly by those that knew. It takes us through their defining second album Cavalcade (Forever In Your Debt, Fool For Your Philosophy, I Saw A Ghost, Plant The Seed) that opened up the door that their third Build A Tower kicked down with such force (Lunatic, You Opened Up My Heart) and which their fourth The Joy Of The Return, an album whose title was inversely appropriate for what happened to the world as it was released, passed through just as the doors closed.

Everything is perfect tonight. The sound is crisp and clear, the moments where Jim's bass takes the lead in songs are puncture sharp, the tight knit rhythm section with David on drums that drives these songs along bounces around the room whilst Kurt's guitars and backing vocals come through beautifully in the mix. The lighting is stunning and perfect for this most inspiring of music rooms in the city. Aaron's vocals sound stronger and more powerful than they've ever done, expressive in a way that accentuates the dark words he's singing and making the turnaround of them into an exorcism of demons communally even more potent. When he turns the mic on us at various points, or encourages to do a wave round the building during All I Hear, it feels like two thousand souls have been consumed into one huge beating heart. 

As the euphoria died down, people found their friends, the last remnants of people's voices screamed "READERS" for the last time before two thousand hoarse people headed off into the rainy night, someone turned to me and said I looked like a proud parent on the balcony watching their kids.  If this blog has only ever achieved shining a light on The Slow Readers Club in the last ten years, then it's been worth every moment of it. 

Eight years ago when they played their first big headline gig in the city at Academy 3, we wrote - "What makes The Slow Readers Club such a great band is evident in how so many people are singing along to every word of every song, even the ones that have only been revealed in the last week with the album release. A recent album review contested that Aaron is in a permanent state of Proustian lamentation, completely missing the point. The Slow Readers Club are the next in a lineage of Manchester bands - Joy Division, The Smiths, James, Elbow, I Am Kloot to name a few. These songs are about despair, depression, relationship breakdowns and helplessness, yet they're turned around by the music, by the celebration that the communal exorcism of those feelings facilitates. Without descending into regional tribalism, it's a peculiar Manchester trait whether it be those aforementioned trailblazers or many of the city's lesser known bands." Eight years on every word still stands true.

They're still fighting the system in many ways, battling against far lesser but better connected white male bands for daytime radio, Spotify playlists and festival slots in a world where DJs, curators and bookers have finally woken up and are belatedly trying to rightly diversify line-ups and equalise opportunities. They've had to go back to day jobs in an attempt to make this work having their trajectory cut off abruptly as lockdown coincided with their fourth album The Joy Of The Return hitting the top ten. They've come back leaner, more determined and stronger, something that this city, red or blue, has always done. Manchester has a history of producing great bands and The Slow Readers Club are right up there with the very very best of them.

The Slow Readers Club's official website can be found here. They are also on Facebook and Twitter.

They support Pixies at Cardiff International Arena (March 18) and London Roundhouse (20/21) before heading off on their European tour calling at Berlin Lido (23), Hamburg Übel & Gefährlich (24), Antwerp Trix Club (25), Paris Supersonic (30), Rotterdam Rotown (31), Amsterdam Paradiso Tolhuistuin (April 1), Belfast Limelight 2 (14), Dublin Academy (15), Porto M.Ou.Co (29), Wrexham Rockin' Chair (June 30) and Holmfirth Picturedrome (July 2).


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